Tennenbaum Stored Secret IDF Papers Before Trip to Dubai

PM's office denies report Sharon 'chose not to reveal' long-standing personal and business ties to Tennenbaum's father-in-law.

Haaretz Service
Gideon Alon
Yossi Melman
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Haaretz Service
Gideon Alon
Yossi Melman

Before leaving for Dubai, Elhanan Tennenbaum had top secret military documents in his possession, without permission to do so and in violation of IDF standing orders. Immediately after Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah announced that Hezbollah had captured an Israeli army "colonel," IDF investigators carried out searches in places where Tennenbaum had worked and stayed.

In offices the Tadiran company provided for him to as a consultant on a project with the Swiss army, investigators found boxes of classified documents. Three and a half years ago, the presence of these documents raised suspicions among investigators from the IDF, the police and the Shin Bet security service that Elhanan Tennenbaum was an agent being handled by Hezbollah, or that before his trip to Dubai he had accumulated classified information for possible sale abroad.

These disclosures - published here by Haaretz for the first time - only heighten the mystery of why officials were in such a hurry last week to work out the controversial immunity deal with Tennenbaum.

Legal experts say facts already established about Tennenbaum - his use of a forged passport, his entering an Arab country without permission - would have been enough to indict him on charges that could have brought a stiff jail sentence.

The mystery over the deal deepened on Wednesday, when the Maariv daily reported that Sharon had 'chosen not to reveal' long-standing personal and business ties to Tennenbaum's father-in-law.

Tennenbaum has changed details in his account of his departure overseas. In his original version, he said he went abroad to seek information about missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad. In a revised version, Tennenbaum said he went overseas to make drug deals.

In this version, Tennenbaum said that Arab drug dealer Keis Obeid suggested that he go to Dubai to negotiate a deal. Tennenbaum's task, according to this account, would be to advise Obeid how to smuggle drugs into the country. For the original consultation with Obeid, Tennenbaum was to get 150,000; if the deal went through and the drugs successfully arrived in Israel, he was to get an additional 350,000. Tennenbaum said he had been driven to make the trip because he had accumulated debts of NIS 500,000 from gambling and business losses.

Before his alleged deal with Tennenbaum, Obeid had been tried by an IDF military court in the Gaza Strip for an attempt to kidnap an Israeli citizen and transfer him to Hezbollah control.

This plot was to have involved kidnapping an Israeli in Gaza and getting him to Hezbollah in Lebanon by boat. It was never carried out, but investigators note the remarkable similarity between the plan Obeid and two associates crafted in Gaza and the story Tennenbaum has told about his preparations with Obeid to pull off a lucrative drug deal.

Tennenbaum has told interrogators he left Israel late at night on an October 3 flight to Brussels, using his Israeli passport. In Brussels, he met twice with Obeid, and Kaid Biro, and the pair provided Tennenbaum with a Venezuelan passport. Tennenbaum says he then flew to Frankfurt, Germany, where he boarded a Gulf Air flight for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

He says Obeid did not travel with him on this flight but investigators don't believe him. On arriving in Dubai, a limousine was waiting for him at the airport. A man he did not know was holding a sign with his name, and transported him from the airport to a home in an affluent neighborhood.

When they reached the home, Tennenbaum says he was attacked by two or three persons and beaten with a club. He says that he has no memory of what happened after that. Investigators are trying to establish whether Tennenbaum was then flown by private plane to Lebanon.

Aides: PM was unaware of reported family ties Responding to a report that Ariel Sharon had "chosen not to disclose" business and personal ties between his family and that of Elhanan Tennenbaum, the Prime Minister's Office said Wednesday that at the time of the discussions that led to the prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, Sharon was unaware that Tennenbaum was the son-in-law of the prime minister's onetime business associate Shimon Cohen, Israel Radio reported.

According to the Maariv report, Cohen, 89, father of Tennenbaum's estranged wife and grandfather to his children, was a friend of Sharon's and had tutored him in agriculture. Maariv said that Cohen had managed the marketing of the produce of Sycamore Farm, Sharon's Negev ranch, and had worked together with Sharon's late wife Lily for two decades.

The Prime Minister's Office Wednesday replied to the report, stating that "Neither the prime minister, nor anyone in his circle, knew at the time of the prisoner deal who Tennenbaum's wife's father was."

In exchange for Tennenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers kidnapped and killed in October, 2000, more than 400 Arab prisoners were handed over to Hezbollah in the deal.

"The prime minister did not know that about 30 years ago, Tennenbaum's father-in-law was connected in some manner to Sycamore Farm," the statement said, terming the Maariv report, "a campaign to denigrate the deal, in which the three soldiers were an important part."

It has become clear, Maariv reported, "that for the prime minister, Elhanan Tennenbaum was not simply a citizen. His [Tennenbaum's ] wife's father was a business partner of the Sharon family, the man who taught Ariel Sharon the details of agriculture, and managed the marketing of the produce of the Sycamore Farm."

"For several weeks now, the citizens of Israel have been trying to understand why Ariel Sharon worked so hard for the release of Elhanan Tennenbaum. Why he agreed to release hundreds of terrorists in exchange for a drug dealer. Why he went from cabinet minister to cabinet minister to gain a majority to approve the deal. Why he asked Shin Bet investigators to "be gentle with Tennenbaum."

According to Maariv, whether or not the ties affected Sharon's actions on behalf of Tennenbaum, "One thing is clear, Sharon chose neither to reveal the nature of his family's ties to Tennenbaum's family, nor to disclose them to cabinet ministers, the chiefs of the defense establishment, and the public at large."

Omri Sharon: None of us knew of the tie The prime minister's son Omri Wednesday said of the Maariv report that "I was astounded to hear this yesterday. It made me laugh, until I saw the proportions the story reached in Maariv."

In a nearly unprecedented step, the paper devoted the entire front page and all of the succeeding 10 to the affair.

"None of us knew of anything, of any tie between Tennenbaum and Shimon Cohen, whom we had met in the past, and with whom we had good relations, but many years ago," he told Israel Radio.

Cohen, speaking the radio Wednesday, said that he had not met with Sharon for some 30 years. Cohen said that his business ties with Sharon had lasted for less than a month, in 1975. Omri Sharon said the business relationship with Cohen and two partners lasted about a month and a half. "A friendship lasted after that, but no one knew, or could have known, of the tie between Tennenbaum and Shimon Cohen."

Cohen said that he had warned his grandchildren, Tennenbaum's children, that in conversations with Sharon, they should keep secret the fact that Tennenbaum had a family tie with Cohen.

Cohen said Sharon had no idea that he was Tennenbaum's father-in-law. "I worked with him for a short time 30 years ago," Cohen told Army Radio. "Arik Sharon is a very honest man."

The leftist Meretz party was considering submitting a no-confidence motion over the Maariv report.

Meretz MK Ran Cohen said that Sharon was known for his interest in knowing small details, and voiced doubt that the prime minister was unaware of the connection between Tennenbaum and Shimon Cohen.

"Ariel Sharon takes care to record nearly every detail in a small notebook, in order to remember every byway, every name and every detail of everyplace. He is not a man who omits the fine details. He is a many of vary many details, that much is certain.

Moreover, Ran Cohen continued, "Ariel Sharon does not forget his friends, nor his relatives, and certainly not people who are connected with his business dealings and his farm, as Shimon Cohen was.

"If he says that he did not know, and didn't remember the man, then I say that this is an utter lie. This cannot be. He can argue that this had no part in his decision on freeing the prisoners, or on all of his declarations, that it was not involved. But to say that he didn't know, he didn't remember - under no circumstances do I believe this at all."